Advocacy: not exactly the first word that came into our minds when we decided to become doctors of optometry. Most of us decided on optometry because we wanted to help people, not argue with them. Yet, why are we constantly talking about advocacy, and why is it that we must advocate so much, when it feels like our colleagues in other health professions do not have to? Well, the truth is, they do. It is easy to look out at the world and think that our own circumstances are unique, and in some ways they are. However, when it comes to advocacy, every profession must advocate for themselves in some way. Some health professions must advocate that they are the specific medical specialty that should be doing a procedure within their own communities. Others, such as optometry, must advocate to help create/change laws that more accurately reflect our capabilities as doctors. This is why we advocate: because at the end of the day, no one knows what a doctor of optometry can do better than a doctor of optometry.
Then why is it that so many of us feel such distain for the word? Well, I think that one of the main reasons is that a lot of people have a distaste for politics in general, and a word like advocacy makes most of us think of politics. That is not all that being an advocate means though. The Oxford English Dictionary defines advocacy as, “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” Advocating for our profession means that we show it our support, but that does not necessarily mean you have to be involved in the political world. While yes, it would be amazing if everyone had the desire to go out and lobby for our profession, that is just not in some people’s comfort zone/skill sets and that is fine! Being an advocate for optometry can manifest in other ways. Staying up to date on the current issues facing our profession, voting for people who support our cause, or even just discussing some of the issues we face with your friends and family can all have positive impacts for our profession.
However, if you are on the fence about becoming even more involved with advocacy, let me assure you that there are many opportunities out there for you! The AOSA and AOA do an outstanding job with educating and providing us with opportunities to present our profession to people in a positive light.For example, in September I was a part of the Virtual AOA on Capitol Hill event where we as students got to meet with politicians and staffers to discuss some of our concerns within the field. At first, I was nervous and thought that I would screw up or say something wrong, but the AOSA did a remarkable job briefing us and providing us the information that we needed to competently speak to these representatives. Another really interesting takeaway I got out of this event was just seeing how much politicians and people in general value and respect our opinions as future doctors of optometry. I know it is hard to believe when most of us are so young, but we worked very hard to get where we are, and people know and respect that.
I hope that if you can take anything away from this, it is that every one of us is important to the future of optometry, and if we want it to continue to be the best it can be, we all have to be good advocates and show people what we’re capable of.